Operation Ranger Up

I Was Wrong: A Tribute to Veterans

By
Updated: November 11, 2012
Veterans_day_2008_poster

Like many other kids, I was heavily influenced by the movies and television shows I saw. At five years old, my dad took me to see the original Star Wars in the theater and it nearly made my head explode. Shortly thereafter he took me to see Raiders of the Lost Ark and for the next year or so I ran around with a rope that doubled as a whip, jumping across cavernous holes (read: from the couch to the recliner), and pretending to recover historical relics. 

However, despite the large role these two film series played in my childhood, the idea of “playing Army” was a mainstay in most of my youthful fantasies. I was constantly shooting at the enemies of my country in whatever scenario I could conjure up out of my little head. Even when I dreamed of being in a Star Wars or Indiana Jones-type world, for some unexplained reason I would incorporate militaristic themes to whatever storyline came from my imagination. I may have had a light saber, but I was a commando with a light saber—not that wussy Luke Skywalker. If I was finding the Ark of the Covenant, I did so with a Tommy Gun in my hand because, let’s face it, that seemed like a more practical weapon than a bullwhip.

I distinctly remember when the movie The Green Berets with John Wayne came on one Sunday afternoon (this is before cable TV, by the way, so TBS wasn’t around to show stuff like that once a month—this was a big deal). I was jumping up and down with excitement and literally could not believe that they had made a movie about the toughest, coolest, and most highly-trained killers on the planet. When other kids went to the elementary school library to check out books on The Brady Bunch, I was looking up stuff on long range patrols in Vietnam. I knew what Green Berets were and I was pumped to be able to see a whole movie on them.

Around the same time that one of our 4 channels was gracious enough to set my hair on fire with a John Wayne movie about Special Forces, one of the major networks decided to start airing this little gem of a television series called The A-Team. I became quickly aware that, even as wanted criminals, Green Berets could wreak havoc on bad guys and save people from criminal masterminds, tyranny, and all around evil. I believed there was nothing they could not do and, whether it was running around in the woods behind our house or playing with GI Joe figures, my fantasies of super soldiers played out for a very long time—probably much longer than they should have for a healthy mind, to be quite honest.

Though I thought often of joining the military during my teenage years, when I graduated high school in 1992, it was far from the closest thing to my mind. I wanted to be “free.” I wanted to just go and do…whatever. And so I did. But the military option nagged at me for a long time; the fantasies of my youth still had a part to play in the back of my mind, but the lack of major international conflict probably prevented them from persuading me into any substantial decision about military service.

September 11, 2001 changed all of that, and it forced me to confront those boyhood dreams of being a super soldier. It forced me to fully address the question of whether or not I did, in fact, have what it would take to be one of the elite our country trusts with its most dangerous missions. So it was that I joined the United States Army shortly thereafter the events of that day.

Despite the fantasies of my youth maturing as I had, I still carried many of them with me. I envisioned being part of the most elite units and having access to the latest and greatest gear. My country would assuredly ask me to conduct high-risk operations behind enemy lines with only a few of my fellow commandos; I would be trained by the best to be the best; I would learn to sneak silently into enemy camps and bring to justice the likes of Osama bin Laden and those similar. The martial arts I had learned as a civilian would pale in comparison to the tactics I would certainly be taught by the US Army.

I was wrong.

Most of those fantasies were, of course, crushed by Infantry OSUT at the little place known as Ft. Benning. My vision of what I would learn quickly turned into a giant boot-polishing marathon and how to dress-right-dress. The hopes of learning secret commando techniques vanished while standing around in formation waiting for…anything. And everything. For very, very long periods of time. Going on to Airborne School showed me again how wrong I was in my thinking that “fighting soldiers, from the sky” was really just a euphemism for running at excruciatingly slow paces and falling down in rocks over and over…and over…and over.

The Ranger Indoctrination Program further magnified my wrongness but in a completely different manner. They took aggression to a whole new level. My daydreams of sneaking through jungles disappeared with SFC C. yelling at us that “Rangers don’t sneak anywhere; they’re as quiet as a herd of elephants and, when they get where they’re going, things get burned down.” Statements like these were of course shouted at us while being in the front-leaning rest position for what seemed like several days at Cole Range.

I was wrong about what it took to be an elite warrior. Very, very wrong.

And I couldn’t be happier about it.

See, I have learned something in the eleven years since joining the Army. Rapidly approaching 40-years old, I can look back with alarming clarity and say that the camaraderie and brotherhood shared by members of the armed forces does not come from fantasy; the bonds shared by those who volunteer to serve in the military do not foster and grow from what little boys dream about in their back yards. Those bonds grow through cold, hard, reality.

It is by the suffering through stupidity; the enduring of silliness; the submitting to endless, bureaucratic, sink holes of time-wasting events that we can understand not only the current struggles of those who serve, but the trials of them who came before us, as well. The fantasy land of Hollywood serves only to entertain; there is no bonding mechanism in place that a movie can accurately portray because 99% of Americans wouldn’t pay the money to see one that truly depicted what really goes on. The truth of what makes the military special isn’t represented by rockets and rock music—Michael Bay movies can’t begin to capture the nature of what every veteran knows. 

It’s about grit. It’s about honor. It’s about doing the right thing and doing it when the right thing is one of the least fun options that can be imagined, and it’s about doing that very thing with a head held high. It is, in short, about embracing the suck.

I see that now. I see that I was wrong and it makes me proud. I never attained my goal of super-elite secret soldier, but that matters not because what I have done is not fantasy. It is part of the brotherhood that is the United States military—a group of individuals that understands sacrifice, camaraderie, and enduring “the suck” like no other. It is for that reason that the reality is far more beneficial than the fantasy because I can embrace it as the here and now. I can look other veterans in the eye and thank them for what they’ve done and they can know that it isn’t hollow gratitude—it is an appreciation that comes from an understanding of the truth that most will never know.

So it is with great honor and humility that I extend my thanks to you on Veteran’s Day for what you have done. I would like to say openly and honestly that I could not be more proud to have been wrong about what this service was and is all about. I am honored to have had my fantasies crushed in the best possible way and to be a part of you, the .45%.

Thank you for serving.

Comments

comments

10 Comments

  1. Silvia

    November 11, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    Thank you for writing that!! I am a child of a Vietnam Veteran, and from that point of view it is heart rending. The silent stoicism of my Father he never spoke of the war and yet here and there over the years what he did there and lived through came out. He is amazing. He served two times, once Huey’s and once Cobra’s. He was the guy special forces chose for their missions. He pulled his comrades out again and again, when he had nothing left but his machine gun. He was wounded and it was days before he was treated because of the more serious injuries, his Timex watch deflected the bullet so he lived and it keeps on ticking to this day!!! I only heard bits and pieces when we are watching one of those “war” movies over the years. But I am awed by what the quiet unassuming man who is my Father has lived through. And all that to be spit upon when he returned to the land he fought for, as he disembarked at San Francisco. From a child’s point of view I saw him return for leave on his first tour. I remember the weeks and months and years of waiting for him, watching the news and hoping he survived when it was reports of areas he was in. Having to be strong and not let him see the fear and hold back the tears as he had to leave, so it would not be harder on him as he went to give the ultimate sacrifice, as every soldier does, his soul, his love to all of us of every race, creed, color, those that support our soldiers and those who just don’t understand what our military keeps at bay from our shores by going to deal with the insanity of hate and power on distant shores. Deeply and most respectfully, THANK YOU for serving.

  2. Brandon McKinley

    November 11, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    Great Read! Thank You! You’re Welcome!

  3. claudia lopez

    November 12, 2012 at 10:26 am

    This is amazing….so well written, so thoughtfully expressed. And somehow you made me even prouder to be an American. I thank you for your service, and for sharing these poignant thoughts.

  4. KB Enquist

    November 12, 2012 at 11:33 am

    :)

  5. Dave Siravo

    November 14, 2012 at 9:18 am

    So eloquently said Brother!

  6. JMC

    November 14, 2012 at 12:39 pm

    Thank you for that wonderful article. Such movies also fueled my decision to join the military, and I endured similar “letdowns,” if you will.

    When I was eight and nine, in the mid 1960s, the favorite comics among kids my age were things like “Casper the Friendly Ghost,” “Wendy the Good Little Witch,” and other cutesy Harvey comics. (Anybody here old enough to remember those?) I was reading Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos.

    Since I was a girl, I didn’t have GI Joes, but I did have Barbie dolls. I collected a slew of Ken dolls, and they became soldiers; and I guess I was a little ahead of my time, because I envisioned the girl-dolls as fighting soldiers, too, even though I already knew that girls in the military, at that time, could only be hospital workers or admin-types.

    Then I got to be around 12 and 13, and saw how my peers were so anti-war and anti-American, it was disgusting. That was when my own dream of joining the military took on an element of “reactionism” – I was determined to prove that not ALL of us were hippies.

    I took the plunge in 1979. Though I didn’t know it at the time, the timing couldn’t have been better for me: They had just opened most other career fields to women. I became an aircraft maintenance specialist in the Air Force.

    The letdown: I expected to be taught combat techniques, for defense if for no other reason, since, then as still now, women weren’t allowed in combat. BOY, was I wrong. This was peacetime. The US embassy in Tehran was taken a week before I shipped out to Basic. Formations of Iraqi soldiers were marching around Lackland Air Force Base alongside our own flights. The Air Force, at the time, focused more on the technical aspects of our particular specialties; the only ones who got any kind of combat training were the LEs and SPs – and, as I know now, the AF’s arm of the Special Forces; back then, we didn’t even know the Air Force HAD any of those. The rest of us got to fire a weapon exactly once, when we qualified on the M-16 in Basic. We ran the obstacle course exactly once. After that, it was a job with a uniform.

    Though we didn’t have anywhere near the same realities as today’s GIs, we had our own version of “the suck,” and that was the endless BS and Mickey Mouse games that took the place of the combat training the other services were getting. But it was enough to give us the same sense of brotherhood that battlefield soldiers experience. Every one of us was ready to lay down his life for the other; Granada proved that to us, even if we didn’t know it beforehand.

    I loved every minute of it. Enough that I re-enlisted four years later, and would have done it again in another four years, except my lungs said otherwise. I developed asthma two years into my second hitch, and the medications they had for it at the time wreaked all sorts of havoc with my metabolism, so they handed me my walking papers.

    Regrets? Only in terms of what I didn’t learn, and that barely registers on my radar anymore. What I gained eclipses that by far.

    For several years after I got out, I regarded that as a closed chapter in my life and rarely even talked about it. Then 2001 came along, and if I hadn’t been physically unfit – and too old (pushing 50 by then) – I would have re-upped in a heartbeat. After that, came the custom of saying “thanks” to veterans. The first time it happened, I found myself deeply warmed; it still gives me goosebumps today. Once again, I’m proud of what I accomplished, enough that I wear my old collar brass as a lapel pin or a hat-tack, depending on what I’m wearing – It’s my personal tribute to the ones who are enduring the REAL “suck” today.

  7. Rick

    November 14, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Thanks, Bro.

  8. bobo

    November 15, 2012 at 12:31 am

    My dad served as a Marine in Korea, and is one of the kindest guys you could ever meet, unless you bad mouth my mom, the Marines or America, then he comes out of his shell so to speak. He never talks about his time there or how he got a purple heart(he has some pretty nasty scars), other than to say his eyes froze shut once if you happen to complain about the cold. I could not be prouder of him and all the veterans who unselfishly sacrifice what so many take for granted.

  9. Cole Yarnell

    November 15, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    I just want to say how much I appreciate this article and our heros, I’m nineteen years old and have been struggling with the path that lies before me. The Army has always had a strong hold on my heart ( being the son of a 101st Airborne ranger does that to you) and the honesty in this article is great to see. God bless you sir for your service and for being willing to put your words out there for all to see.

  10. EDWARDFFULLER

    November 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Jack long time no talk but this very true in fact it hit home at the times you get passed over when you are waiting in a drill hall with all your bags packed waiting for that call when you get it they say the war is over and think what it would be like to have been there what would have happened to any of our that went before us thank for sharing you thoughts

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